Hannibal Rising & War – Spoilers

I did not know what I wanted to post today, 9/11, as I think it is important to mark the passage of yet another year of war based on a the lie that Iraq, and Afghanistan, had something to do with the bombing of the world Trade Centers and holds WMDs. I also want to keep up my commitment to reflect on alternatives to war that were available to all of us in the days after 9/11. As a well-traveled N. American citizen, I can say without a doubt that we are less safe now than we were 6 years ago as evidenced by the hostility I receive just from pulling out my passport.

Unfortunately, I am still sick from the dinner I had two days ago, containing items I am deathly allergic to . . . so instead, I will flex my cultural critic muscles instead of my reflective ones:

Hannibal Rising: A Musing on War


For those who have not seen the birth film of the infamous Cannibal, today might be the day. Despite its expected gore and trite gender politics, the film is an unexpectedly successful examination of the evils of war.

The movie begins In Lithuania, one of the bloodiest battle zones on the Russian front, at the beginning of winter. As in history, the troops are poorly funded, underfed, and poorly commanded. They have been left to fend for themselves by a government who has neither provided consistent leadership nor the necessary food and equipment for the soldiers to survive. The result is both opportunistic and need based defiling of the occupied communities. Thus we see soldiers stealing food, clothing, jewelry and money from everyone indiscriminate of who is an “enemy” and who is an “ally.”

After the war, we meet these same soldiers. They have become successful business and family men, members of the police and army, and human traffickers. The message seems clear: wars are populated with every day men some of whom are just trying to get home and others who are sadistic opportunistic people who take war with them. Further, the way that these men have and have not stuck together also shows how wars bond people through atrocity so that even the “every day men” remain silent about what they have seen and done. Wars also provide opportunity for exploitation that can be translated into a civilian world – the traffic in drugs, women, goods, etc. through routes opened by war, connections made during war, and with the displaced possessions and people victimized by war.

Hannibal and his sister are among these displaced people as the war grinds to an end. They watch their parents threatened by soldiers and then killed by allies. Alone, they become easy targets for soldiers left behind to fend for themselves. And in keeping with the gendered politics of war, Hannibal’s sister does not survive.

I have previously posted about the number of women trafficked from Afghanistan to neighboring countries as a result of the “war to free muslim women.” Women are also being displaced in Iraq. As I said in the previous post, these women are being sold to pay for food and shelter that has been taken or destroyed during the war effort, they are also simply treated as surplus when their families have been killed or dispersed across the dessert leaving them behind.

Hannibal’s eventual deposit into an orphanage that was once his family’s estate also echoes the current war. As my post on the documentary Mother Land Afghanistan shows wealthy homes are being looted and destroyed. Just last night, New York Times mini-cam footage aired that showed the “intellectual center of Iraq” completely bombed out and having yet to be rebuilt, the scholars displaced by those bombs have either fled or been left to populate increasingly sectarian book shops that bely a dissolution of potential allies rather than a build up of them.

In fact, the ways in which war creates pathology is a key theme of the film. Besides Hannibal’s cannibalism and murder born out of the murder of his sister Mischa to feed the troops through winter, the film introduces Lady Murasaki, Hannibal’s Aunt & a Japanese war bride. Lady Murasaki has her own war story, she is the only surviving member of her family having lost them all in Hiroshima. Though she shows no outward signs of surviving the blast, her inward turmoil is equally responsible for Hannibal’s turn to the dark side. Throughout the film, she acts as his accomplice by teaching him a sense of honor that includes beheading one’s enemies, protecting him when his murders are discovered, and even transporting him to some of his victims. The subtlety with which she displays her own sense of revenge is oddly undermined by her pleas to Hannibal to stop his killing near the end of the film.

Yet her please also serve to diversify an otherwise static message about the victims of war becoming the perpetrators of violence. The message of Hannibal Rising is that they are not all “monsters” but they are all out for vengeance. Even the police inspector who trails behind Hannibal with empty threats of prosecution, is in his position because he wants to see war criminals pay. The Inspector’s righteous cause to bring perpetrators to prosecution is undermined however by society’s willingness to find a place for them all and also his failure to hold Hannibal accountable thus condoning the murders through action if not word.

Moving back to the New York Times footage for a moment, I am reminded of a bright eyed young girl in the footage who proudly tells her war story of being displaced by rival groups threatening her family and then sings of how beautiful and proud her country is while a flock of boys stand behind her enthralled by the story of violence and giggling at her obvious desire to please the camera. These are the children of war. The innocent witnesses to violence enacted on their nation in the name of other people’s violence, who as the voice over says “all have a story of violence like a badge.”

If we take the message of Hannibal Rising seriously, we have to ask what are these badges for? Will they be badges for the new society that integrates war criminals into the police, military, and middle class in the U.S., Iraq, and Afghanistan? Are these the badges of a secret society of survivors who enact vengeance on those who wronged them? Either way, it seems the “war on terrorism” has simply created terrorists on all sides through the deployment of radically overworked, underfunded, and poorly equipped U.S. soldiers who have leveled whole villages of women and children, been acquitted of witnessed murders of unarmed women and children, and tortured prisoners for all the world to see to the exiled unnamed poet who promised to “restore Iraq to its glory” and “seek vengeance on those who brought it down” or the children who tell their war stories like street cred living on the scraps war has left behind.

Though it was hard to see a path to peace on this day 6 years ago, what would it have been like if we had? If we had leadership willing to look at our own actions in the region, willing to lead the N. American people in reconciliation, and willing to bring those who did commit the 9/11 bombings to a globally agreed upon justice as outlined in U.N. and World Court agreements, would have changed the face of global politics for the better and made the U.S. safer? I think we could have.

Now we must collectively think about ways to bring peace, security, and solidarity to our nation and the nations we have toppled. We must demand that our veterans receive proper medical care and pay for their service instead of being warehoused and shipped home in the night. We must demand that the health centers we built in Afghanistan and Iraq actually have supplies, trained physicians, and sanitary conditions instead of just the names of U.S. politicians slapped on the sides of them. We must rebuild together and mourn together.

Let this war be our last Vietnam.

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